How to write a research paper in science
Very often graduate students and researchers, involved in scientific disciplines, underestimate the ability to document knowledge,
to write and express thoughts clearly.
This is a fundamental skill and it is a critical and necessary step on the journey to become an educated individual and a top researcher.
This page describes a general outline for writing a scientific research paper and provides graduates with some general
guidelines to better write technical documents.
You are writing the research paper to sell your work to a given audience
so you want to convince readers that what you are talking about is grounded and makes sense.
If the paper is poorly written, regardless of the depth and impact of your research findings,
it can easily led readers to dismiss your work.
The general formatting requirements such as the font, spacing, size,
section and subsection headings, paragraphs, tables, figures, equations, references, etc. are usually provided
by the organising conference or journals in the form of a paper template.
Editorial board members or reviewers may reject a paper simply because
the formatting instructions have not been carefully followed.
length: 1/2 lines
The title should be attractive, relevant, concise, simple
- capture the attention of the readers
- differentiate the papers from other papers on the same area of research
- summarise the content of the paper in a few relevant words
- avoid abbreviations and jargon
length: 150/200 words
The abstract is a short, standalone summary of the paper that other researchers and practitioners can use as an overview.
The purpose of this section is to provide readers with a brief summary of your research work enabling them to quickly determine whether
it is relevant to read the rest of the paper or not.
The main goal is to provide a good overview of the research in a way that highly motivate readers to keep reading.
- write the paper first and then the abstract
- review and understand any requirements for writing your abstract according to the conference of journal you are submitting to
- consider your audience (lay or experts) and help readers and searching engines to find your work online
- start describing the purpose of the study and the problem at hand (~3/4 sentences)
- describe the research methods, the design of the solution and the approach (~3/4 sentences)
- describe the results, the answers of your research and the general findings (~3/4 sentences)
- give a conclusion, indicating the implication of the work, whether the results are general
or specific and the importance of your work (~1/2 sentences)
length: 3/5 keywords
A list of keywords is aimed at helping those people who are electronically searching for research work just like you are looking for information on the web on a certain research area.
Keywords (as single words or combined words) list the particular areas of study that your research covers.
Usually, looking for a set of papers based on keywords will then move on reading the abstracts to narrow this list. Put most important keywords first.
length: 1 page (3/4 paragraphs or 10% to 15% of the paper)
The introduction will introduce the reader to the general issues addressed in the paper.
- introduce the context of your research work
- introduce and describe the problem being addressed (problem statement)
- describe the importance of the problem and its relevance to the underlying field of study
- briefly describe the novel proposed solution to the problem and the purpose of the study
- state the research question
- outline the structure of the paper
2. Related Work
length: 2/3 pages (or 15% or 25% of the paper)
Generally, the Related Work section is immediately after the Introduction or at the end of the paper, before the Conclusions section.
It is aimed at providing the readers with a better understanding of the problem.
It is focused on introducing other approaches in the literature to solve the problem in hand.
It enables the readers to contrast and compare the proposed solution with other existing
work in the literature performed in the field.
- start with a few sentences describing the general domain
- present a preview of research areas particularly relevant to your problem and that you will discuss in depth
- create a body with different paragraphs, each discussing a different relevant thread of research
- a thread of research devoted to the synthesis of works using a different method to solve the same problem
- a thread of research devoted to the synthesis of works that use the same proposal method to solve a different problem
- a thread of research devoted to the synthesis of related problems that cover the domain of your problem
- a thread of research devoted to the synthesis of a similar method applied to solve a similar problem
- end the section with a paragraph that summaries reviewed work, emphasise the gaps justifying the research problem and the need of your solution
3. Design and methodology
length: 3/4 pages (or 20% or 25% of the paper)
The design and the methodology lie at the core of the research work, and it is aimed at satisfying one of the core principles behind the scientific method.
Any scientific piece of research needs to be replicable and verifiable by other researchers, enabling the reviewing of the results by replicating the experiment and guaranteeing the validity.
This section describes the rationale and the details behing the solution to the problem.
This is a compulsory section and it is usually built upon several logically connected sub-sections.
These subsections describes the methodology of the proposed solution or the steps to solving the problem (example CRISP-DM).
- carefully describe how the research was conducted
- provide readers with technical background information or explanation needed to understand the results
- explicitely state the assumptions of your research
- present the research hypothesis/es
- include enough details to allow replicability and verifiability
- ideally, include a visual diagram (non-textual elements, figures, charts, photos, maps, tables) summarising the components of your design and how they interact with each other
- describe the materials, tools and equipment used in the research
- explain how the samples have been gathered
- describe any randomization techniques as well as how the samples were prepared
- explain how the measurements were made and what computations has been executed upon the raw data
- describe the statistical techniques used upon the data
4. Results and discussion
length: 2/2 pages (or 25% or 40% of the paper)
The section is where you report the findings of your research based on the methodology you have applied.
It should state the findings of the work organised in a logical manner without bias or interpretation.
The goal is to identify various observed phenomena and emphasise the importance of observations made.
The articulation of the results aids readers to better understand the problem, to break it into logical pieces,
and to view it from various perspectives.
- restate the research problem to get back the focus of the readers
- the results of a study do not prove anything, they can only confirm or reject the research hypothesis/es
- avoid presenting and discussing data that is not critical to answering the research question
- present a result and then explain it, before presenting the next result
- be as concise and factual as possible in reporting findings
- do not present the same data or repeat the same information more than once
- do not ignore negative results rather greatly discuss them
- end with a synopsis of results followed by an explanation of key findings
- explain the meaning of the findings and their importance to the research field
- relate findings to similar studies
- consider alternative explanations of the findings
- acknowledge the limitation of the study and the findings
5. Conclusions and Future Work
length: 1/2 pages (or 5% or 10% of the paper)
This mandatory section summarises the paper, it draw conclusions about the proposed solution, and present future directions of the research.
The conclusion is aimed at leaving a lasting impression. It conveys the larger significance of the study and succinctly answer the "So What?" question by contextualising the study within
the larger body of knowledge, and how the research advances past research about the topic.
It should offer new insight and creative approaches for framing or contextualizing the research problem based on the results obtained.
- summarise the literature review in a couple of sentences discussing the gaps and limitations
- restate the main research problem in one sentence backed up by gaps in the literature
- summarise in a couple of sentences the solution designed to the research problem
- highlight key findings, their impact and significance to the body of knowledge
- describe important/unexpected implications applied to practice
- introduces possible new future work or expanded ways of thinking about the research problem
length: 2/3 lines
Sometimes, authors list people/organizations that helped carry the research work and publish it.
length: 1/4 pages
This section lists the references used to carry out the research and write the paper.
The style for referencing research work depends on the referencing style decided by the organising conference or journal (eg. IEEE, APA, Chicago, Harward).
This section should contains material that is important, but if placed within the main text of the paper, might shift the focus or make it difficult to follow.
Example include large tables with abundance of numbers.
After you have completed the first draft, read again the paper and:
- take care of colomns, semi-colomns, dots, commas and punctuation in general;
- remove repetitions within sentences and across sentences and use synonyms;
- make sure you have defined an acronym before using it;
- make sure technical terms are explained and do not assume readers know everything;
- split long sentences, into shorter ones;
- organise sentences into paragraphs and avoid orphan sentences;
- split long paragraphs into shorter ones;
- check each bibliographic entry (against incomplete authors, page numbers etc);
- add visual diagrams/schemas where is possible to clarify textual information;
- make the caption of each table and figure self-explanatory (ideally a reader should understand the content of each table and figure without looking back at the text;
- connect each sentence to the previous one as a flow;
- be precise with terms such as approach, technique, method, methodology, framework, measure, measurement, model: they mean all different things;
- choose a tense and stick to that (do not use present and sometimes past tenses);
- do not start a sentence with a citation (e.g.  said...);
- use a mix of active and passive sentences;